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House of Lords

Monday, 11 January 2010.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

European Council: Presidency


2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Dykes

Lord Brett: The Government are confident that the President of the European Council and the rotating President are working effectively together. Mr Van Rompuy and Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero held a bilateral before Christmas, at which they agreed a range of working arrangements, including that the external representation of the EU would be the responsibility of the President of the European Council. On 3January they co-wrote an article published in newspapers across Europe, outlining a number of joint priorities.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there may be three priorities for the new standing President: that is, to make sure that the new treaty structure works effectively and quickly; to encourage our popular noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in her work on the External Action Service; and to support the Commission and the ECB in the anti-recession policies? As Mr Zapatero is well known to be a keen and enthusiastic European, despite the British press hype to the contrary, there is no reason to assume that he will not be a keen supporter of those policies.

Lord Brett: I take the noble Lord's last point. I confess, to everyone's surprise, that I have come to believe that not everything that is published in the British press is totally accurate. In this case, it certainly is not. I endorse that Prime Minister Zapatero is indeed a loyal and enthusiastic European. One can do no better than quote from the article that he and Mr Van Rompuy wrote, in which they talk about the application of the Lisbon treaty being diligent and rigorous; working together to set priorities for the presidency; and all the developments for a new Europe being the first steps on a long road that we shall travel together. The treaty itself establishes close co-operation and co-ordination between the President of the Council and the President of the Commission. The role of our former colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, has been highlighted as a most important one and we can look forward to her carrying it out with great distinction.

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Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, perhaps the Lisbon treaty has not been as simplifying as those of us who call ourselves Europeans had hoped. Would my noble friend agree that the relationship between the rotating presidency, the President and the High Representative will depend as much on the personal dynamics as the institutions; and that so far the Spanish presidency appears to have reached a good pragmatic solution?

Lord Brett: Indeed, I agree with my noble friend. It is true that in the European context, as many more experienced noble Lords will know, the personal relationships between principals at that level are very important. We have every reason to be optimistic that all the principals involved will work together and have a clear and shared agenda to ensure that the Lisbon treaty is put into effect diligently and effectively.

Lord Howell of Guildford: Does the noble Lord have any figures for the cost of this additional presidential role and its required support services? There have been some absolutely staggering figures in the press about the cost of support services and the salary involved. I am sure the noble Lord will wish to put these in perspective and correct them if he can.

Lord Brett: The first perspective is whether we are talking about the new foreign service, as it has been accused of being in some parts of the press. The whole idea is to have things that are cost neutral. The cost of the presidency and the salary of the President of the Council are being negotiated, but one would expect the level of salary to justify the calibre of candidate we selected from the candidates we had to choose from.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, given that the aim of the European Union has always been to get rid of our European democracies and replace them with a supranational Government run by technocrats-an aim finally achieved by the Lisbon treaty-surely the answer now is to hand over all power to Mr Van Rompuy, and call in the EU gendarmerie force when the people finally take to the streets?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I have been aware for many years of both the noble Lord's devotion to the European cause and his belief that all roads lead to Rome. This one does not. If Venus were to collide with Mars tonight, he would accuse the European Union of being responsible for it-perhaps the opposition would accuse Gordon Brown-but in neither case would that be true.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, since the European Parliament is the democratically elected link with the British and other member states' peoples, what are Her Majesty's Government doing to ensure that the President of the European Parliament is present at every important meeting of the European Council and of the rotating presidency, which is not at present the case?

Lord Brett: We are seeing a most important part of the process starting today, which is the presentation and the "advice and consent", to use the American

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term, of the new Commission. There will continue to be a dialogue about how to improve the democracy and transparency of the European Union and the Commission, and their role in our lives. Those who believe that the European Union is vital to this country and, indeed, to the future, will carry that hope optimistically; others might be more pessimistic.

Education: English


2.41 pm

Asked By Lord Quirk

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are committed to improving performance in spoken and written English. Our drive to improve whole-class teaching is promoting enhanced pupil achievement. The new primary curriculum will support this. Programmes, for example, one-to-one tuition, Every Child a Writer and Literacy Plus, provide additional help to pupils where needed. The accountability framework, to be underpinned by our new Pupil Guarantee, helps ensure continued school improvement, enabling all children to achieve their potential.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I thank the Minister who is, of course, well aware that English is the foundation and the gateway for employment as well as for all future training and education. She will no doubt have shared the general dismay at the figures published last month by the Office for National Statistics, which showed that there had been a decline in performance of a remarkable 5 per cent for the second year in succession. I have two questions therefore. First, how can this be when relevant expenditure has more than doubled in the past 10 years to a staggering £64 billion? Secondly, if, as is widely rumoured, the unloved SATS are being dumped, what measures will the Government put in place so that we can have some idea in the future whether standards are improving or continuing to fall?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, that is a very important question for which I thank the noble Lord. He is right to talk about literacy being the foundation for a positive future for all our young people. I absolutely support that analysis. By working in partnership with employers, the Government are developing a comprehensive strategy to ensure that when they leave school all young people have the functional skills that employers expect in this day and age.

The noble Lord asked about measures. The most important measures that this House and others will be looking at will, of course, continue to be, for example, our performance at GCSE level, but the Government

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will incorporate a whole range of measures through the development of the school report card, which will, I hope, very much include a clear measure of how well schools promote functional literacy.

Baroness Sharples: How will these measures affect those whose second language is English?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: It is important that measures apply consistently across the board. The noble Baroness referred to children and young people for whom English is an additional language. This is a matter of great concern to the Government. The number of children with English as an additional language is increasing, but we have been working very closely with schools to ensure, through our national strategies programme, that we are providing the kind of tools that schools need to ensure that, as standards of literacy are improving in this country-and they are-children for whom English is an additional language can keep in touch and that the gap does not increase.

Lord Harrison: My Lords-

Baroness Walmsley: Does the Minister agree that speech and language therapists have an important role to play in the performance of spoken English? Given that the posts of these therapists in schools are funded by the NHS through the local PCT and that their professional training is the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, what are the Government doing to ensure that there is co-operation between the two departments so that there are sufficient funded posts and properly trained people to fill them?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I shall have to think about whether or not my answer was adequate for the noble Baroness, because the important thing is to point to the very strong partnership that exists between the DCSF and the DoH. In response to the Rose review, which looked at the primary curriculum, we have launched the communication, language and literacy development programme, which is very much about the two departments working in partnership. However, I am prepared to look more closely at her question and come back to her in writing.

Lord Harrison: Does my noble friend agree-

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords-

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords-

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): It is the turn of the government Benches.

Lord Harrison: Does my noble friend agree with Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, that reading-in particular, reciting-English poetry, whether ancient or modern, is one of the best ways of developing spoken English?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend. We need to be absolutely clear that spoken English-as well as listening

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and written English-is a key part of the GCSE curriculum and is very much a part of the culture of teaching and learning in our primary and secondary schools. Of course poetry is key throughout that. Encouraging children and young people to enjoy poetry is absolutely essential.

Baroness Warnock: Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government are not completely concentrating on one-to-one tuition, because it is generally agreed that that is not always the best way to encourage children to talk, to listen and to articulate their thoughts? Teaching a small group of children is very often much better than teaching in a one-to-one situation.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I can reassure the noble Baroness because, as I have tried to explain, our strategy is about improving and supporting whole-class teaching-we have national strategies to help schools that need support there-and intervening early where children and young people are falling behind and are not achieving what is expected of them for their age. That is where the essential contribution of one-to-one tuition comes in. Therefore, I would not say that the Government are focusing too much on that, but we are very proud that we will commit significant funding-£138 million this year-to supporting one-to-one tuition where that makes a difference. Of course the noble Baroness is right to say that listening in groups and group work are important, but one-to-one tuition has a difference to make.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, will the Minister answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, that, according to the ONS, educational standards have been dropping at the same time as expenditure has been rising? Is this because there is not a direct link between rising standards and spending money?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I completely disagree with the analysis that educational standards in this country are falling. For example, 80 per cent of 11 year-olds are reaching the expected target of English attainment compared with 63 per cent in 1997. That is 100,000 more young people every year achieving the expected standard for their age. That is a product of unprecedented investment. We must do more and go further to achieve better for our young people. We must ensure that all young people can achieve to their potential.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords-

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords-

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords-

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we have had two contributions from the Cross Benches and only one from the government side.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that confidence in spoken and written English needs to be built very early? Will she join me in congratulating the arts organisations in this

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country that have contributed through the work that they do in schools to building that confidence, particularly in children of primary school age?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I join my noble friend in congratulating arts organisations throughout the country on working with schools to build children's and young people's confidence in spoken English. This is now assessed much more as part of the formal qualification system, but spoken language in drama, performance and poetry is very much a part of every school community in this country and is something that we must value and promote further.

Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012: Visas


2.51 pm

Asked By Lord Trefgarne

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, all Games athletes normally requiring a United Kingdom visa will be able to use their accreditation card as a visa waiver, along with a valid national passport, to enter the UK during the Games period. The accreditation process will involve standard immigration checks and will not require athletes to obtain a visitor visa or to be sponsored under the points-based system.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, but is he not announcing the driving of a coach and horses through our immigration policy, in particular the security implications of our immigration policy, given that it appears that all that the athletes have to do is wave their accreditation card in front of the entry officer when they arrive?

Lord West of Spithead: Absolutely not, my Lords. The accreditation card gives you permission to get into the Games. It also acts as your visa. The checks that we will carry out are almost identical to those that we would carry out for someone who is getting a visa. The only difference will be that people will not have to prove that they have the funding and money available to be in this country for a certain length of time. Otherwise, all the checks are exactly the same. We think that there will be about 40,000 people altogether. The checks will be as good as they are for visa holders, so what the noble Lord says is absolutely not the case.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in congratulating our noble friend Lord Coe on the wonderful work that he is doing for the 2012 Olympics and in expressing our deep regrets to the friends and families of the slain members of the Togolese national football team and

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staff in Angola. What precautions are being taken to ensure that the Israeli athletes who will be participating in the London Olympics will not face arrest warrants or possible prosecution for serving in the Israeli Defence Forces during Operation Cast Lead, as has happened here recently with Israelis intending to visit the United Kingdom?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House shares my noble friend's views on the Togo football team. What this shows, I am afraid, is that terrorists of all types around the world are willing now to use sport as an arena in which to pursue their rather bent and perverted aims. It is extremely sad and unfortunate that that has happened. As regards visits to the United Kingdom, every case is taken on its individual merits when it comes to visas. It is very difficult to predict whether someone might be charged with something by somebody who has nothing to do with the Government. I cannot foresee any case where that would occur, but it is very difficult to predict because it depends on individuals' actions.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, considering that the arrangements described by the Minister are slightly different from those that apply to athletes attending all other sporting activities in the United Kingdom, will he advise the UKBA to put a note on its website describing these special procedures? Also, will we have any arrangements for dealing with asylum applications for members of teams who come to compete in the Olympic Games, given that athletes attending other athletic events, such as the Falkirk Cup last year, have applied for asylum in the United Kingdom?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a couple of important points. I think that the current rules will apply to asylum, but I shall get the team to look at that to make sure that the rules are clearly articulated. There will be specific rules for athletes entering this country for the Olympics because the Olympic family amounts to about 40,000 people. They include not just those taking part in the Games but coaches, support personnel, International Olympic Committee and national Olympic committee members, members of the media et cetera. Therefore, we will have specific rules for the Games. We are carrying out a comprehensive education programme with airlines, airports, feeder airports and others to ensure that all this knowledge is known. The information will be put on a website. Indeed, we are intending to put in fast-tracking at certain airports-this is being discussed at the moment-so that the arrangements do not cause delays and impinge on people coming into the country in the normal way.

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